Another installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we have the dude who got shafted by Ghibli, an Oshii-trained director who takes it easier on the exposition (if only by a little), an artist who thought it’d be cool to capitalize the first two letters of his last name, a one-man studio who puts other producers to shame, and finally, yet another man who took depression as a que to make more anime. Commence my incredibly biased and uniformed views!
- Director: Digimon Adventure (1999), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009)
Many people who were into Digimon remember Mamoru Hosoda for the two movies he directed: Digimon Adventure and Digimon: My War Game in 1999 and 2000 respectively. The movie showcased the talents of the highly capable Hosoda, both as an animator and director. He would later move on to greater things, but not before a run-in with Studio Ghibli. I’m not entirely sure what exactly went down, but Hosoda was originally slated to direct Ghibli’s 2004 animated film Howl’s Moving Castle. He left the project early on due to reasons I’m not privy to (but if I had to venture a guess, it would be a creative conflicts with Miyazaki). Whatever the reason, the Hosoda that might have been was no more. Parting ways with Ghibli allowed Hosoda to pursue a career at Studio Madhouse. He joined the studio in 2005 as staff director and has since directed two movies, 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and 2009’s Summer Wars.
Personal Favorite: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
We’ve all seen what happens when time travel is present in movies, it usually becomes cause for a lot of unnecessary explanation and technical jargon. Surprisingly, this is not the case here. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a movie readily accessible to both die-hard anime fans as well as the general audience. It follows Makoto, a high school girl, who one day discovers she can “leap” and appear at any point in time. She begins to use her powers on various mundane things, such as going back in time to cheat on a test or to eat the last pudding in the refrigerator before anybody else can get their hands on it. Life quickly becomes a piece of cake, having the ability to turn back the clock if need be. However, she’ll soon learn the true meaning behind the phrase, “time waits for no one.” As she continues to use her powers, she begins to realize the effect it has on her friends and family. Loosely based on the novel of the same name, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the pinnacle of realistic and romantic storytelling. A movie worthy of its praise; a highly recommended one for all fans.
Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Madhouse, an anime studio that needs no introduction (but here’s one anyways). The year was 1972. Three animators and a film producer, all ex-Mushi Prodouctions personnel, decided to form their own studio. Their names were: Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Osamu Dezaki, Rin Taro, and Masao Muruyama. The “Madhouse Four” as I refer to them; they were essentially the last of the “first generation of post-war anime creators.” The founders obviously intended to create great things and Madhouse was structured in such a way that it’s strengths lay primarily in “in-house” productions, many in the form of theatrical features. The way I see it, before there was Ghibli, there was Madhouse. They were, in many respects, the leader and flag bearer for progressive anime films (a la Yoshiaki Kawajiri whom I mentioned earlier).
As time goes by, however, yesterday’s visionaries must eventually pass the torch to a younger generation. That time is rapidly approaching for Madhouse and other studios as well, including almighty Ghibli. When the moment comes, and the likes of Kawajiri, Dezaki, Miyazaki, and Takahata are no longer around, who will take up the reigns and continue the tradition of making great anime films? For Madhouse, they have a number of capable people waiting at the doorstep to do just that. Among them, Kawajiri’s protégé, Takeshi Koike (Redline), and of course, the man of the hour himself, Mamoru Hosoda, who has more than proven himself capable with his film making skills. Needless to say, we can all rest assured that the future of Madhouse is in good hands (it would have been even better hands if tragedy hadn’t befallen Satoshi Kon). As for Studio Ghibli, I can only hope that Goro Miyazaki-kun can get it together.
- Director: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002), Seirei no Moribito (2007), Eden of the East (2009)
Kenji Kamiyama is a long-time member of Production I.G. who has only recently begun to shine. During his early years, he worked in close conjunction with Mamoru Oshii, eventually becoming his protégé. He served as animation director of 1998’s Jin Roh. He wrote the screenplay for Production I.G.’s exhibition movie, Blood: The Last Vampire in the year 2000. Then in 2002, he was finally made his directorial debut, first with Mini Pato, then with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex later that same year (the latter of which would keep him busy for the next four years). He capped off his GITS spree with the 2006 movie Solid State Society, a sort of SAC-esque re-imagining of the original 1995 Mamoru Oshii movie. The next year, he directed the Production I.G. TV series Serei no Moribito. More recently, Kamiyama has been an integral part of the Production I.G-noitaminA partnership, directing the 11 episode TV series Eden of the East as well as both movie sequels.
Personal Favorite: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Stand Alone Complex features a noticeable change from the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell movies. While the movies set aside character development in favor of philosophical world building, the series is more action oriented. SAC is essentially a police procedural drama set within the Ghost in the Shell Universe. This is not so say that without Mamoru Oshii, SAC can’t make you think at times. We again follow The Major, Batou, and Togusa and Section 9′s cyber crime unit as they deal with various cyber criminal incidents scattered across 2030s Japan. During season 1, Section 9 must solve the mystery of the “laughing man” case, a murder caught on camera spawning a slew of copycat behavior. In season 2, they are faced with the “Individual Eleven” case, a group of terrorists who claim to be acting in accordance with “the eleventh essay of the May 15th incident.”
Similarly to how Mamoru Hosoda embodies the future of Madhouse, Kenji Kamiyama is a very capable torch-bearer for Production I.G’s future (one of many). Trained by the great Mamoru Oshii, I’m excited to see how Kamiyama will develop into a senior director on his own. However, despite their close working relationship and attachment to Production I.G., I wouldn’t go as far as to call Kenji Kamiyama the successor to Mamoru Oshii. Ghost in the Shell notwithstanding, their style of storytelling is just too different. There exists a stark contrast between the two that makes itself apparent post-SAC (Eden of the East in particular I’d say highlights Kamiyama’s style the best). Oshii has his own legacy, and Kamiyama will no doubt build a great one for himself.
- Character Designs: NieA Under 7 (2000), Texhnolyze (2003), Welcome to the NHK! (manga), Despera (?)
- Original Story: Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei
Yoshitoshi ABe is an artist and graphic designer who has overtime become involved with a variety anime and manga works. As a teenager, ABe was a graffiti artist (which often times got him in all sorts of trouble). His artwork as a teenager was said to be dark and somber which had a lasting effect on his later art style and character designs. Together with his close friend and writer Chiaki Konaka, Yoshitoshi ABe became involved with Triangle Staff’s 1998 experimental TV series, Serial Experiments Lain. Since then, ABe has done character design work for a number of shows including 2000’s NieA Under 7, 2002’s Haibane Renmei, and 2003’s Texhnolyze. ABe has also illustrated his fair share of manga and doujinshi works.
Personal Favorite: Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is perhaps one of the most controversial works in the past several decades, rivaling the likes of Evangelion. It’s been described by the producers as an “enormous risk” at the time of its conception and also criticized as “a sort of cultural war against American sense of values Japan adopted post-WWII.” Beyond all the criticism and controversy, let me tell you why I personally love Serial Experiments Lain. The Lain franchise was conceived, according to producer Yasuyuki Udea, to “connect across all forms of media.” Much like Evangelion, in a sense, The Lain story sought to become social commentary; a form of modern societal discourse. Lain was a work of art as well as a war of ideas that required the viewer to form his or her own perception it. That, in essence is what Serial Experiments Lain is, an experiment that pushes the limits of the anime medium.
I decided to go with Yoshitoshi ABe since he seems to be the name that most people are familiar with. However, this section is not really dedicated to simply one person, but instead to three people. They are the production trio consisting of director Ryutaro Nakamura, writer Chiaki Konaka, and of course, artist and character designer Yoshitoshi ABe himself. The three sides to Triangle Staff (sort of but not really, that’s just the term I use), Nakamura, Konaka, and ABe have worked on a number of shows over the years. But none of them as grand and epic as their first collaboration, Serial Experiments Lain, produced by the aforementioned Ueda. I guess the avant-garde nature of the whole show hit me during an early stage of my anime fandom (and I’ve been sold ever since). As cheesy as it sounds, the three of them working together is like magic. To this day, I’m eagerly awaiting Despera and their reunion. After Lain, parts of the trio would team up again on later projects. For example, ABe would work with Konaka on Texhnolyze (which is an awesome show by the way), but never could they reproduce the same magic that was present throughout Lain.
- Director: She and Her Cat (1999), Voices of a Distant Star (2002), The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
Matoko Shinkai was a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki growing up which eventually spurred his interest in creating anime. He started his young career with 1999’s She and Her Cat, a 5 minute short film which won him the DOGA Animation Grand Prize in 2000. Somewhere down the line, Shinkai was drawing concept sketches when he made one particular drawing of a girl holding a cellphone. This became the inspiration for his next big endeavor Voices of a Distant Star. It took him nearly a year, but Voices was finally released in 2002. His follow-up movie was 2004’s The Place Promised in Our Early Days. In 2007, he created his third feature-length film, 5 Centimeters per Second.
Personal Favorite: Voices of a Distant Star
I’ll admit something: I’m not a huge fan of Matoko Shinkai. Or I should say, I’m not a huge fan of his style of storytelling. Dare I say, it’s too slow and dull, lacking any sort of defining moment or denouement. However, I do have respect for the man, and for Voice of a Distant Star in particular. Being the first movie of notable length that he produced, the “Shinkai style” was still relatively fresh. The length was also a strong point; at 25 minutes, it’s running length is that of an average TV episode or modern OVA. For stories like this, I believe that amount of time is perfect. This would partly explain why I love Bably Blue and Voices of a Distant Star.
People have started calling Matoko Shinkai the next Miyazaki. The similarities are certainly visible, but only time will tell. Honestly, I think if Shinkai hires a few competent scriptwriters, he could very well form his own studio and become successful doing what he does best: making movies. I’ve already talked a lot about Voices of a Distant Star, but the there’s more to it than being a great movie. The amazing thing is, Shinkai wrote, directed, and produced the entire thing on his personal computer. Shinkai and his wife voiced the two main characters while a close friend of his supplied the musical score. Not only did this feat put Shinkai on the anime radar, it proved that with enough inspiration, determination, skills, and to a lesser degree, connections, individuals can produce great things.
- Director: Gunbuster (1988), Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
- Animation Director: Daicon III (1981), Daicon IV (1983), Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987)
Hideaki Anno was kicked out of college because he spent all his time drawing cells for the Daicon Animations instead of attending classes. He and his friends, which included current GAINAX president Hiroyuki Yamaga debuted the Daicon Animations, first at Daicon III 1981 and then again in Daicon IV 1983. This catapulted the indie animation group into the spotlight. Anno’s career, however, was just beginning. As the story goes, shortly after Daicon, Anno came across an ad posted by Hayao Miyazaki. At the time, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa production was short on animators and were in desperate need of help. Anno responded to the ad and joined Miyazaki’s animation team. Miyazaki was so impressed by Anno’s work that he tasked him to draw one of the key battle sequences from Nausicaa (The God Warrior scene). Nausicaa was finally released in 1984 and would become the catalyst for the formation of Studio Ghibli. That same year, GAINAX was officially formed to produce the movie Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, with Anno acting as animation director. As one of GAINAX’s founding members, Anno would become one of the studio’s premier directors, starting with 1988’s Gunbuster and later 1990’s Nadia Secret of Blue Water. In 1995, Anno directed the popular series Neon Genesis Evangelion. To this day, Evangelion remains the series he is most recognized and known for.
Personal Favorite: Gunbuster
Gunbuster was Hideaki Anno’s first show as director and also GAINAX’s first series after Wings of Honneamise. The show only lasted six episodes, however it established GAINAX as a both major contenders, as well as fervent fanboys, of giant robot anime. A lot of things happen in Gunbuster that are downright insane. It’s interesting to see Anno’s take on how far human scientific discovery will advance in the future. In many aspects, Gunbuster is a parody of the older mecha and sci-fi genre (eg. Yamato, Gundam, and Starship Troopers). Newtonian physics and Einsteinian relativity are completely massacred. At one point in the series, they encase a black hole in a Dyson sphere the size of a planet and use it as a bomb. Now that’s awesome.
Chill people. I haven’t forgotten about Evangelion; Anno’s life work and GAINAX’s most successful anime series. The show that is still being talked about amongst the masses even today. The show that quite famously (or infamously) became the precedent for all modern anime since and a very controversial one that still continues to spark debate. Personally, I can appreciate Evangelion for the good things that came of it as well as the overall message that Anno was trying to convey. There is no doubting the show’s popularity. When it first aired in 1995, it was in all respects, the defining anime series of the decade. Not only did it push the boundaries of storytelling in anime, it gave rise to an entire wave of new and experimental titles. Faults and criticism aside, Evangelion is a beautiful show if you can recognize and understand it at its foundation.
People these days still can’t seem to get over the fact that if you take your eyes off the minute details and take a step back to look at the big picture, the show becomes a hell of a lot less confusing. To fully understand Evangelion, at it’s most basic level, one must take into account the context in which it was presented and the audience to which it was presented to. Shin Seiki Evangelion aired in Japan during the year 1995. The generation that rebuilt post-WWII Japan had passed on leaving their children in a neoliberal capitalist, and materialistic society. However, when the bubble burst during the late 80s, Japan experienced an economic crisis quite comparable to our own back in the 30s. At its core, the Evangelion story is Anno’s message to the Japanese people. An entire nation who, at the time, were struggling to regain what they had lost. As fans, we often joke about Anno taking those drugs, but truth be told, Evangelion is a carefully created, carefully articulated piece of work. This is the reason why I love Evangelion and the reason I have such great respect for Hideaki Anno.